NHS management is to financially incentivise hospitals that succeed in achieving cost efficiencies through the introduction of the latest technology. There will be an emphasis on AI solutions that are able to substitute or even improve on human experts and specialists for particular patient outcomes.
The announcement was recently made by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens. Diagnostics, screening and outpatient appointments are priority areas that recent developments in machine learning are particularly suited to relieving the burden on human labour and time.
Productivity targets were set as part of the 2018 agreement to increase the NHS’s annual budget by £20 billion.
Official figures indicate that the service has been doing well and has seen productivity levels increase by over three times the cross-economy average. However, much of those gains have come as a result of hard-pressed NHS staff working harder than ever before. As Mr Stevens noted ‘that’s not a reproducible set of circumstances’. It’s time for the latest technology to take on part of the strain and Mr Stevens wants to stimulate a pick-up in the pace of that transition.
While the transition to AI tools will inevitably lead to the loss of certain NHS jobs, the bigger picture is to free up budget for roles that add more patient value. Radiographers would be one role among those most under threat as well as others in diagnostics and screening. AI is most effective at tasks that involve picking patterns out of data input so perfect for jobs like examining x-ray images. Algorithms would also be expected to be more accurate than the human eye when applied to the right kind of screening and diagnostics tasks.
Speaking at a conference organised by the Reform think tank, Mr Stephens stated:
“We have got an opportunity to substitute what is a lot of human labour in those areas, and free up clinical time for more value-added activities.”
“I believe we are sufficiently clear to declare our hand for the adoption of machine learning for a number of clinical processes — that will be true in diagnostics, screening, potentially upstream in drug discovery and a range of other applications as well. There is no reason we should not be the world-leading health system when it comes to adoption of the technologies that will define what medicine looks like over the next decade”.
“NHS England is kicking off a global call for evidence about how we should adjust our reimbursement frameworks in April next year — to incentivise outpatient redesign, diagnostics, screening — to create a strong financial pull factor for the application of those technologies.”